Leading up to the release of Pokemon Sword and Shield, the true Nintendo Switch Pokemon debut, things got a little weird. While the game certainly looked amazing in terms of polish, visual flair, and extravagant new features, a big slice of the usual pie is missing. Each core Pokemon game in the past has always included every monster to date, with the roster breaching well over 800 total. But in Pokemon Sword and Shield, that tradition broke.
After a recent alleged leak of the final Pokedex ahead of launch, fans were up in arms over many classic critters not making the trip to Pokemon UK. As someone who has been into Pokemon since the beginning, I understand the pain the fanbase is feeling. At the same time, I truly disagree with the outrage and don’t see the issue as an actual issue. While it’ll be an adjustment for sure, Pokemon Sword and Shield won’t be compromised. Here’s why.
Once the series progressed to a certain point, the Pokemon developers opted to split the Pokedex into two. Generally, that means the more localized collection, which primarily included new monsters local to the region, and some other scattered options to fill out typing balance. Then, after meeting certain conditions, the player would unlock the larger Pokedex, which included everything. Now, that didn’t mean you could literally catch every Pokemon in a single game, but it did mean those creatures’ data was included. They could be transferred in through other means.
Since we’ve moved to the Nintendo Switch, Pokemon isn’t quite what it used to be. It’s a much larger, more visually intensive, high definition version of everyone’s favorite monster-collecting RPG. 3D and HD are not new concepts for Pokemon, but the two combined are new for a “full” Pokemon experience. I’m being careful, because the Let’s Go! Series technically happened first, but those games are much simpler, less complex takes on the usual. Even then, it’s a little janky. And janky is the word for 3D Pokemon games so far. Since Pokemon X and Y, the series has struggled to function on its given hardware, with different kinds of compromises and caveats hampering that polished Pokemon feel.
The reality is that the same kind of density possible in a 2D, low resolution Pokemon game is not possible on an HD platform. Pokemon X is a prime example. Even on a sub-HD platform, the full 3D graphics caused that game to chug beyond belief, especially when 3D was on. The next game, Sun and Moon, ran better on the New 3DS, but totally removed the 3D option. It still struggled on the original hardware. These were games with full Pokedexes, which were great, but greatly exposed a specific set of bursting seams. At a higher visual fidelity, the usual Pokemon formula is not sustainable.
There was already “controversy” over Sword and Shield reusing models and animations from before (mind you, Sun and Moon dataminers already determined the models stored in the game were higher res than the 3DS could handle–future proofing!), and once the supposed Pokedex leak showed that even classic Pokemon from the original generation didn’t make the cut, tempers rose. But it’s totally justifiable. To remake the models from scratch and make a full suite of new animations, would have taken more resources and manpower than is reasonable. Crunch is enough of an issue as it is in games, such an undertaking would immediately make things worse. In addition to that, including the full Pokedex and still making a good-looking game with the level of detail it has would probably make the Switch’s CPU melt. Just saying.
I understand why it sucks to see Pokemon Sword and Shield not having a full Pokedex. We’re so used to having some kind of access to everyone that it’s kind of a big shock. But as a longtime fan I’ve seen the writing on the wall. I saw the chinks in the armor, the strained seams, the cost of fidelity. Similar games such as Digimon and Dragon Quest Monsters never include every creature ever included in those games (albeit it’s kind of an uneven comparison in terms of scale). That many unique creatures on top of all the systems and calculations in Pokemon, a game that has historically struggled and failed to even support save slots, just isn’t possible. I’d rather the people behind the curtains get to make a game they can be proud of without killing themselves or compromising in more glaring ways. The old games still exist.